Ramban’s defense of BHG ‘s failure to count the opening sentence of the Aseret haDibrot among the 613 commandments, is likely familiar, but I return to it regularly because of my uncertainty as to whether I overread it. Ramban suggests, as do contemporary scholars of ancient Hittite vassal treaties, that “I am Hashem your G-d” is a preamble rather than a command, a statement of sovereignty that grounds and whose acceptance is a necessary precondition for all subsequent commands. To a contemporary philosopher, ever sensitive to reflexive loops and a passionate partisan of autonomy, the position Ramban articulates (although not his own position) is tantamount to a conscious recognition that belief cannot be commanded, and accordingly that there can be no justification for religious coercion against agnostics, and no blame for those whose failure to uphold halakhic commitments stems from denial of the premise that G-d commands us, or even of the premise that G-d commands us to observe Halakhah. However, these conclusions seem a difficult fit for Ramban in historical context, and I think that a close reading of his words yields no clear indication that his argument goes beyond the technical claim that metamitzvot can be excluded from the number 613. One can evade the historical issue by suggesting that he merely attributes this position to BHG, and thereby legitimates it, but himself does not believe it – but I find that approach unconvincing. One can also argue that he legitimates the position, and we are then free to draw our own implications from that position, but that only begs the question of whether the implications are necessarily legitimate. But perhaps it is disrespectful to Ramban to read him as missing what seems to me such a clear implication of his argument? I would be hard-pressed to accept such a contention in any other area of Rabbinic discourse. Shabbat shalom Aryeh Klapper here
Facebook String (Oct 4th 2022)
Here’s a difficult story.
Years ago a teacher of mine, a rabbi I admire deeply, called me up to get my thoughts on the question of faith. What did I have to say about faith? I didn’t understand the question. Faith in what? “You know, faith!” he replied. “Having faith.” I was genuinely confused. Faith in God? Faith in Mashiach? Faith in Jesus? “Just faith!” he insisted. If he meant having belief in a particular doctrine or creed, I said, I could think about that with him. If he meant an optimistic outlook, I could do the same. “But I don’t know what you mean by ‘faith.’” “OK,” he said, and went to speak with someone else whose insights might be more edifying.
I’ve turned that conversation over in my head ever since. “Faith” has never been part of my lexicon; and I don’t know anyone, certainly not a Jew, who speaks of faith. But the exasperation in my teacher’s voice that day told me I was missing something that was both obvious and essential, at least to him.
What exactly is faith, to a Jew? It’s not the same as belief (in English, at least), or optimism, or even hope, though hope comes close, I assume.
I assume faith is the opposite of ￼￼￼יאוש, despair, giving up. Faith, I suppose, is an attitude toward all the things of this world that resists the impulse toward nihilism. Sometimes it might flow from conviction; but I suppose it must persist even when our convictions are shaken or in spite of new convictions. Faith is close to loyalty, the canine virtue of cleaving to another and never letting go. Faith is going through with things not only out of a sense of integrity or out of duty and not only out of hope that they will turn out well, but because one’s very self has become deeply entwined with the doing.
I worry I didn’t understand what was meant by faith because I lack it. But I think I also feel it stirring in me, this faint sense that living in faith is the only way to live, לקיים אמונה in the words of the siddur, to keep faith. And in a way I can’t quite explain the possibility of teshuva, or genuine change for the better, is bound up with faith; and genuine freedom is found only where teshuva is possible. [Joe Schwartz}
The more I think about it, the more struck I am by the number of injunctions *against* faith — faith in the wrong things. It’s not just idols we aren’t to have faith in — it’s also people. “Al tivt’chu bin’divim, b’ven adam she’ain lo teshuah.” That kind of thing. The biblical text seems to take for granted that people will want to place their faith in something or someone — as a matter of course, as if it were human nature — but that they will place that trust wrongly.
Think of the chet ha-egel. Lack of faith leads to the need for reassurance in the form of an object in which faith can be placed — something we can see, and therefore can have more confidence in than the absent Moses (for whom the calf substitutes as an intercessor). My point is, there’s a palpable *need* for something to have faith in there, which must be satisfied somehow.
I’m not aiming here for something pat like “man who doesn’t believe in God will believe in anything.” That just begs the question: who or what is this God that we should have faith in? I’m more interested in the interplay of trust and distrust, what it feels like to be subject to this conflicting set of injunctions. [Noah Milman]
might this help? it's from Mordecai Kaplan's journal entry of Fri.Sept.30, 1955: *I forgot to include in the brief summary of the Yom Kippur sermon the idea about the three fold function of religion as a means of motivating the good life. That function is to inculcate a) faith in oneself as capable of salvation, self-realization or perfection relative to one's capacities and opportunities, b) faith in God as the cosmic Power that compels and helps men achieve salvation, and c) faith in society as capable of evolving a method of social interaction based on truth, reason, freedom, justice and peace, which method is essential if society is to enable those who belong to it to achieve salvation." [David E Kaufman]